Victims and Villains?

Yesterday my step-granddaughter had a painful moment of disillusionment, a small meltdown, because she realized that her ancestry was that of the villains, not of the victims. She is not a Native American. She has a mind for fantasy and has been in love with Native Americans since school started. For Christmas I gave her a little treasure of Native American artifacts from my own life, a beaded baby bracelet one of my mom’s friends at the Crow Reservation made for my mom when she was pregnant with me, a little pot made by Maria Martinez, a little mother-of-pearl owl from the Zuni Pueblo.

It made me think a lot about our current world and the twist of its propaganda. There’s no way to deny that Indians were treated badly by white people. No sane person would ever argue that, but the complexity of our lives should tell us something about the complexity of lives of people in previous generations. Especially now, I think, we should be a little humble making our harsh pronouncements. I believe that to understand ourselves, the first thing we have to do is realize that human beings don’t make sense or even, always, know what they’re doing.

I don’t think it’s possible for us to “make it up” to the Indians for what white people have done to them over the years. Can’t be done. We can just go forward from here. And beating ourselves up for the actions of white people hundreds of years ago? The thing we should be doing is recognizing — with relief — that we’re not there now. There’s really nothing more patronizing and hubristic than looking down from some white promontory and saying “I’m sorry for what they did to you. I never would.”

I wanted to talk to her about raiding cultures in general, and about alliances between some tribes and whites, including that between the Crow and the American army. I wanted to try to explain how history — and human action — is never all this or all that, and the best we can do in our time is attempt to do better.

I wanted to tell my little step-granddaughter about the people who lived in Beringia for so many thousands of years and of the great mixture of peoples that have been discovered in the limited DNA we have from their living years and how traces of that DNA are European. I wanted to tell her that science hasn’t figured out completed where they did come from. I wanted to show her that there was no America as far as those people were concerned or at all 30,000 years ago. That “America” is a made up thing, a word we use to communicate an anonymous location on the globe. I wanted to tell her how, when the waters began to encroach on these ancient peoples’ homeland, they just had to move and they did. I wanted to tell her that they didn’t all come at once.

Then I wanted to tell her about my Swiss ancestors who came to America on purpose to escape some of the same treatment that would be leveled on Native Americans, attempted genocide, the imprisonment of adults and kidnapping of children for re-education so they would not grow up Mennonite. I wanted to tell her about her Canadian great-grandmother who was one of the first women in Canada to become a medical doctor. I wanted to tell her about my Irish ancestors who were loaded onto unseaworthy ships and sent off to live or die, who cared? I wanted to tell her about my Scot’s ancestor who was a prisoner of war, enslaved, set to labor in the sugar plantations in Barbados.

I wanted to tell her about the myriad peoples and cultures that crossed the Atlantic on those ships and how the clash of values existed from the beginning. I wanted to talk to her about peoples’ relentless urge to wander, move, migrate and the various incentives that set them on their way. I wanted to talk to her about the perpetual struggle in humanity between good and evil, even within each one of us.

And then, the bottom line, that we are all tenants on this planet set to contend with the vicissitudes of our time.

*—Aldo Leopold, from “The Virgin Southwest”

Teddy’s Traumatic Afternoon

Australian shepherds are known for being passionate, wild-at-heart and driven — and, by and large, happy dogs. Teddy is all those things. He’s a sweet, loving little guy and I love him to pieces. But…like all Aussies and all young dogs, he has his “glitches.”

One of them got him into trouble yesterday and gave me something to do with that stimulus money (ha ha).

Until yesterday, my front door was a French door. It is the original door for this 96 year old house and the panes of glass are/were not tempered glass like you find in such doors today. My sofa is against the wall and at a 90 degree angle to the door. There are about 6 feet between the door and the arm of the sofa.

Teddy uses the arm of the sofa as a launching pad when someone leaves something on my porch. Yesterday he launched himself at the door and broke a pane. He cut off a dew claw from his left from paw. Blood was everywhere and he was terrified. He brought his little foot to me in the kitchen as if he were saying, “You have to fix this Martha. It hurts.” I grabbed some paper towels and held them against his little foot to stop the bleeding at least enough to see what happened. Called the vet, “Bring him right in, but you’ll have to leave him.”

“That’s fine.” Got to my wonderful vet and saw people I haven’t seen in nearly a year. That was nice. Teddy went back to a kennel and I came home and called my friend Elizabeth to see if her husband, Bob, could help me measure the door way. I thought I’d have to get a new door but Bob is a very resourceful, skilled and smart guy and he immediately came up with a solution. Replace the glass with Masonite. He immediately went to work. Bear was very happy to see him because she thinks he’s great.

When I went back to get Teddy, there were the most amazing clouds over the Sangre de Cristos. I learned later that recent snow storms (grrrrrr….) have almost brought the annual snowfall level up to break the drought.

The tech at the vet said she wanted to keep Teddy and apologized to me for thinking Teddy was a girl. “He’s just so sweet! We all want to keep him!” I handed over the leash, but she didn’t take it. What’s up with that?

I brought Teddy home and let him sleep in my room until 2 when he felt better and wanted to get back to life as usual with Bear in the living room.

I’m so grateful to good neighbors and friends. ❤

Justice? or Vengeance?

I enjoy reading Icelandic sagas and the really good part of going to Iceland in 2016 was going to Thingvelir. It’s the actual Rift Valley where Europe and North America split. Geologically, I can’t think of anything cooler, but besides that it’s the place where, for two weeks in summer, all the Icelandic vikings met once a year to hold trials and make laws. In Njal’s Saga I read about this for the first time. The Vikings set up booths and adjudicated things and sold things and socialized. Imagine, having, essentially, two weeks a year to socialize but that was more or less true. Their “booths” were dug part way into the ground, built up with rocks and completed with skins and whatever else they had. Stuff was sold and traded, but most wonderful was the Althing, the meeting of their parliament and their court.

Re-enactment at Thingvellir of a “booth”

The basic code was that the parties in a law suit would abide by the decision, but judging (ha ha) from the sagas, that isn’t what always happened. The line between justice and revenge can be almost nonexistent. When an adjudication didn’t satisfy the complainants, chances were good that someone’s house would be burned down, his wife or daughter stolen, a spear thrust through his chest. Many were the methods for exactly justice in the wilds of medieval Iceland. Still, I think the Althing worked often enough that it didn’t stop trying. It is still in existence and met at Thingvellir until the 18th century.

This morning I got this from my Senator:

On January 6, 2021, Congress convened to fulfill its constitutional duty to certify the Electoral College results of the 2020 election. A day meant to affirm American democracy instead turned into one of the darkest in our history. President Trump’s incitement ended in a violent breach of the United States Capitol by his supporters. It was an assault on America’s commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and the peaceful transition of power.

This attack on our Constitution cannot go unanswered. We must reject lawlessness and reassert the rule of law. We must repudiate authoritarianism and reclaim democracy. Those who organized and led the assault, those who followed them, and those who incited them – none should be beyond the reach of justice.

Last year, I voted to remove President Trump from office for his crimes against our republic. Since then, his unconstitutional wrongdoing has only grown worse…I will support any effort to impeach the president and uphold the rule of law – including steps beyond January 20, 2021, if required.

Michael Bennett, Senator for Colorado

It’s interesting that almost ALL the sagas (those I’ve read, anyway) deal with this subject. Wrongs are done, or perceived, and taken to the Althing for adjudication by a democratically chosen judge. The case is presented, evidence and testimonies given, and a verdict is rendered. If everything is satisfactory to both parties, fines are paid and life goes on. But, in that case, there’s no saga. It’s only when the parties return home without feeling satisfied that a saga emerges. The plaintiffs expect the worst and the defendants (or vice versa depending on the story) vow to exact REAL justice. The exacting of that “real justice” is the basis for the stories. I cannot right now think of a single story in which the Althing did not judge correctly, and the “justice” exacted post-Althing was always vengeance, often motivated by greed, lust, envy or a muddled combination of the three.

Violence in the Icelandic Sagas is wild, colorful, creative. Their culture was partly a raiding culture which meant there were plenty of opportunities for people to be grieved. The descriptions are amazing — grieved parties waiting for winter when the bay would be frozen and they can ride across it to their enemy’s farm and set it on fire. Having been in Iceland, staying in a house on one bay when everything else was on another bay, I get that. By car it was a couple hours drive. By horse? That would be a complicated journey of at least few days giving the soon-to-be-injured party plenty of opportunity to evade attack or stage an attack themselves. And, as it happened, there was more cover in Iceland in winter than in summer.

The problem with civilization is that people are not peaceful by nature. Anger is part of who we are and it’s kind of addictive. I think we humans look around for justifications to feed that emotion and keep it alive. A law and order society — a real one — will never satisfy that part of humanity. I think there have always been these two competing strands in human nature; one seeking a peaceful life of rule and cooperation and another ready to kill for what it wants or to satisfy a burning grievance.

“I Want to See Mt. Palomar in Snow!”

When I was a kid in school in Nebraska, I was always excited when the Weekly Reader showed up. It left a big impression on me that lasted a long time, like until now long time. One of the great things I read about was Palomar Mountain where the Hale Telescope sat. Once the Good X and were living in San Diego, and I realized WHERE that was exactly, I was excited to go see the telescope. I loved space. We went soon after we found our apartment. It was great.

When our first San Diego winter(1984/85) rolled around, and I read that there were 12 inches of snow up there, I wanted to ski the trail from the campground to the observatory. It was one of our first back-country ski trips in Southern California. I learned a lot from it.

First, Southern California plants thrive in winter and die down in summer. Second, most of the 2.2 mile trail to the observatory was lined in brush meaning we had to stick our poles in the manzanita and sage scrub. It was ludicrous, hilarious.

At that point, I didn’t even know what those plants were except an enormous pain in the ass. As we neared the observatory, the trail was cleaner.

Higher ground, finally a decent trail to ski.

The ferns that grow along the upper trail were dormant and the pasture was wide. In the fullness of time (years) I would see the mortreros in the rock along the trail where the Indians ground acorns and I would know that the trees around me were mostly Coastal Live Oak and Jeffry Pine but I wasn’t there yet.

It took a long time to get up there, and though it was an insane caper, it was fun and the sight of that beautiful dome rising from a snowy landscape took my breath away.

We decided not to go back down on the trail. Parts were steep and narrow with almost no means of controlling a downhill ride, no room to turn, no place to plant poles. We took the road — which, up near the top had not been plowed.

As we careened down the mountain, whooping in exhilaration, we passed a family who, having heard there was snow up there, had brought their equipment for a fun California day. This consisted of a cooler, a couple beach chairs, a beach umbrella and a couple of boogie boards. This wasn’t irony; this was serious. As we whizzed by, one of the kids yelled out, “Hey mom, THAT’S what we should be doing!”

That was my first experience with the Southern California phenomenon of “going to the snow.” Many, many years later, when I was teaching Critical Thinking through Nature Writing and my students had to go “out” into nature and write about it in their journals, I read many sweet and funny stories about my students’ first encounters with the glorious white stuff. Most were surprised that it wasn’t softer to land in. Others were surprised it was so cold. On days when I took a dog or two up to the Lagunas to run through snow drifts on the Garnet Peak Trail, the Sunrise Highway was always lined by cars filled with people who went into the “wilderness” only about 50 feet for the experience of winter. Lots of people filled the back of their pick-up truck with snow and put small snowmen on the hood.

Today I took Bear and Teddy out to the Refuge. I’m still a little friable physically. The knee isn’t quite right and the groin muscle is tight and achy, still, but better. I was worried Teddy would pull too hard in one direction and Bear in the other, but no. Bear walked with me so I didn’t even feel her on the leash. Teddy is starting to understand what a leash walk is. It was perfect. All day showers have been coming over the San Juans in waves of air-brushed clouds of snow that obscure everything and go on their way. The three of us walked most of our walk in just such a miraculous shower.

Skis are not the only way to love snow.

Lamont and Dude Ponder Employment and Take On a Rescue Mission

“‘sssup, Lamont?”

“Looking for a job where I can work from home. But really, Dude, nothing looks appealing. You really lucked out at the museum, Dude.”

“I know. How many positions even EXIST for a former Smilodon to wear a Smilodon suit all day and get paid for it?”

“I meant the little trailer where you sort through all the bits and pieces coming out of the tar pits. I could do that.”

“Well, obviously, but not from home. “


“TED talks, Lamont. Those are still happening. I think, anyway. Have you signed up for your vaccine yet?”

“Here’s irony for you, Dude. No. I tried but they said no because I’m ‘too young’. Ha!”

“Well you are only 40 or something at this point, in this iteration.”

“I know, but…”

“It doesn’t matter, Lamont. Fauci says things won’t be ‘normal’ until this fall.”

“Things are never normal with humans in charge.”

“What’s with that old guy? He’s been sitting under the lifeguard stand for a while now. “

“Yeah, I know. I think we should go see if he’s OK.”


Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with a few years ago. They have the uncanny ability to remember many of their previous incarnations which gives them a unique perspective on life, the universe and everything.

Skiing Cuyamaca Peak — Cougar Tracks

A year or so after the Good-X and I moved to San Diego (1984) we bought a 1972 VW camper van with a pop top. It was an awesome vehicle (until the block cracked) and we had a lot of fun with it. We also had moved our skis with us from Colorado. We had heard — though we wondered how it could be true — that the mountains east of San Diego sometimes got enough snow to X-country ski.

Sure enough.

The first time we went up there was with a couple with whom we were friends and from whom we rented an apartment. We went to the Laguna Mountains. Of course I had no idea at that time that the valley in which we skied that day (on 8 measly inches of snow!) would someday become as familiar to me as my hand, or that I would learn to regard those 6000 foot “hills” as mountains. I was, I admit it, a Colorado snob. Now I know.

From my high valley even the highest 14er rises only 7000 feet from the valley floor, no greater gain in elevation than the top of Cuyamaca Peak from San Diego. In fact, it’s just the same. I learned that a mountain is a mountain in relation to the land from which it rises, regardless of how a mountain is defined by geologists or geological surveys or Alpinists. I’m not a mountain snob any more. The Colorado fetish with 14ers now seems a little silly. If you want oxygen deprivation hold your breath. 😉 I’m joking. I know there’s a lot more to it than that.

Today when I look at Windy Mountain or Pintada from the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge I see snowcapped hills that rise 5000 feet from where I stand. Mountains, but…

There are two ranges outside San Diego, separated by one of the innumerable fault lines that criss-cross California. Between the two is a narrow valley with a fissure and a spring that, in time, I got to know well. The ranges are the Cuyamacas — in which I lived for eleven years, and, just 10 miles further east, the Lagunas, in which I hiked and skied. The Cuyamacas have a leash law. The Lagunas do not.

Sometimes you see photos of San Diego looking east from Coronado Island. You see ocean, town, bay, city and, behind everything, a snowy mountain. That mountain is Cuyamaca Peak.

Cuyamaca Peak with snow on it

The second time the Good X and I skied in San Diego County we headed to a trail head at Green Valley Falls (fantastic falls in spring and in a wet summer, idyllic with pools and slides to play in, drop down, swim in, wade). We parked, paid our $5 day use fee, strapped on our skis, and headed up a trail we knew nothing about. It wound around the north side of the mountain to the west where it looked down on San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. We climbed, and climbed and climbed until we got to where we could see San Diego, but that wasn’t all we saw. We also saw fresh cougar tracks.

I didn’t know anything about mountain lions then except that they are dangerous. I had no knowledge of that world yet and little curiosity. We high-tailed it down and headed home, stopping on the way to watch a movie and have dinner.

Twenty years later, I would live at the base of that mountain and see it on fire. Later, I would see that far western slope with fire weed blooming. I would hike the trails in the Laguna Mountains in all weather, and ski to the top of Garnet Peak against all sanity and all odds. I would see a mountain lion.

Garnet Peak (a fun hike in the Laguna Mountains) in the winter of 2003/2004 after the Cedar Fire, oil on canvas.

The skis in the featured photo are just like the skis I took with me in 1984 from Denver to San Diego. They are — were — wonderful back country skis. They needed to be waxed which I liked because I could control the “slide” depending on my adventure. I found these old skis three years ago in a thrift store here in Monte Vista. They aren’t my very skis, but when I saw them they seemed to call out, “Get us OUT of here!” I had not had my hip replacement (second one, different hip) yet and I wasn’t moving very well. I was with my friends. We’d gone for lunch but weren’t ready to go home, so we visited a new thrift store in town. Without thinking, I reached for those old skis and cradled them in my arms. Elizabeth said in a soft voice “Are you going to ski, Martha?” There was so much pity in her eyes that I set the skis back where they were and went back to shopping. I returned to the store alone a few days later, forked over $30, and brought them home. They stand in my studio along with many other very personal treasures from my life. In a way, that room is my “medicine bundle,” my little trove of talismans.

Looking back on my first forays into the San Diego mountains, it’s funny to realize all the things I didn’t know yet. Makes me wonder what else I don’t know yet.

P.S. I’m writing my ski stories because writing the stories is how I figure things out. Now that it seems I’ve reached the end of this moment in my life, I want to see it more clearly and understand it better. I hope it’s not too tedious. ❤

Learning to Langlauf

The first time I went X-country skiing was with the first-X. Our marriage was over, but we hadn’t divorced each other or even faced the reality. He was a terrible husband who hit and kicked me from time to time, but we got married young and never sought the help we needed. I was in graduate school in Denver and he, believing I would use his money to get my MA in English and then leave him (because an MA in English leads to SO MANY lucrative careers), left me for grad school in Laramie at the University of Wyoming. Up in that wild and woolly world, he started X-country skiing. When I went up to spend a weekend, he rented me skis and took me to the Medicine Bows west of Laramie.

I hated it like I’d never hated any sport before. I don’t know if it was just that I didn’t know how or the company I was with, but I ended up soaked to the skin (back then long johns were cotton waffle weave = sponge).

I vowed never to do it again.

A few years later I read about “skinny skis” in Outside Magazine and it struck a spark. I decided it might be fun if I had lessons. I found lessons in the flyer for Denver Free University and signed up. I bought skis from the LLBean Catalog (Karhu Bear Claws fish-scale skis) poles, boots and the bindings — 3 pin bindings — came with the whole thing. Strangely, the day they arrived, my X showed up at my apartment. His new wife was visiting friends and he decided to visit me. We had three or four such visits over the years and I saw — and he saw — that it probably should have worked. We just didn’t know how. I’ve known him since the 9th grade.

The first class met in a classroom and the teacher was great. He was friendly, passionate about X-country skiing. When the actual DAY came, we all got in a big Chevy Suburban and headed up to Devils Thumb Ranch over Berthoud pass and more or less across the street from Winter Park Ski Area. Devils Thumb Ranch is pretty fancy now, but back in the late 1970s it was a big one story wood and log building with a few motel rooms, a kitchen and a dining room. Out the back was a deck, a “bunny slope” where little kids could learn to downhill ski and a rental area. Behind it were miles of X-country trails, none of which were groomed trails (I never saw groomed trails until I moved here in 2014) but all of which were well marked. The trails wound around meadows, through aspen groves and pine clusters.

It was a crystalline clear Colorado mountain winter day with ice crystals in the sky and virgin snow everywhere. The teacher took us through exercises so we got used to the skis. We played tag running with those boards on our feet, falling, laughing and learning. Best class of my LIFE. Then we skied. We learned to kick and glide, how to do a stem turn and even had the chance to try the beautiful and classic telemark turn.

My dreams started there. The next class was in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area where I loved to hike in summer. That was the day I met the Good-X, but that’s not what this post is about. The snow was front range snow which isn’t really easy for me to describe other than to say it had been through more changes than the holy snow at Devils Thumb Ranch had been. It was a wonderful day.

I wanted to go all the time, and began experiencing the reality that most people I knew didn’t want to go all the time and NONE of them wanted to X-country ski. It wasn’t “cool” and it wasn’t fast. Most people thought Nordic skiing was just walking around in snow, but it’s so much more than that and it CAN be fast. Most of all, it can take a person into the “real” mountains away from the crowds. I’d been reading A Moveable Feast in which Hemingway decries ski lifts and lauds the times when people were strong skiers because they had to make their way up the mountain under their own power. I thought getting up the mountain under my own power was the definition of cool.

So, one Sunday morning I got up, looked at my 1970 VW bug with its low-tech ski rack (basically giant rubber bands stretched against a frame that held onto the car with hooks that went inside the doors) and thought, “Fuck it. I’m going to ski to *Lost Lake.” I got dressed (I had learned about wool long johns by then), put my precious Karhu skis in the rack and headed to Boulder, then up Boulder Canyon to Nederland, to the Fourth of July Campground and parked as far up the road as it was safe to park. VW bugs had very high clearance. I took my skis off the roof, put them on and headed up the mountain.

I’d hiked this trail dozens of times. I knew it well. At first it’s essentially a gravel road that turns into a stream in spring. It goes past a ghost town and an old campground. After the road, there’s a trail head and soon the trail goes up very quickly, does a little turn and then a person is on the main trail which is a steady climb, part of it up an old corduroy mining road. It runs beside then crosses a stream over a small waterfall. A little while later, there’s a fork — go straight to several glacial lakes or up to Devils Thumb. Turn left, Lost Lake, the lowest of this cluster of glacial lakes.

I made my turn and skied the sweet flat trail to the lake which was frozen and covered with snow. The mountains that held the lake as a cup holds tea were too steep to hold any snow themselves and the tracks of small avalanches were apparent on the eastern slopes.

There wasn’t much to do up there when it came to it. The main event was getting there. I drank some water, ate a granola bar, considered my adventure and turned around. The only challenge of the experience was getting down the steep little bit at the beginning of the trail, but I did it. I loaded my skis back on the top of my VW Bug and headed home to Denver.

It was my fourth time on X-country skis.

That winter there were more experiences on my skinny skis. My neighbor (guy in the photo above) and I headed up to Devils Thumb ranch one Saturday and had a blast that included me falling forward into four feet of snow and burying my arms. I laughed so hard I couldn’t get up. My friend came whizzing by, saw me, cracked up and nearly hit a tree before he crashed. BUT it also happened that day that in the stillness of the snowy forest a jay ate a bit of granola from my hand. I lived in momentary hope that this neighbor — newly moved into the apartment across the hall — would want to go ALL THE TIME but he didn’t. It was the first lesson I had that guys will do stuff with you not because they like what you’re doing but because they have a condom in their wallet. Dark times. 😉

My Karhu skis were not back-country skis. They were just simple and cheap waxless skis. I would own more appropriate skis as time wore on and ski some other dramatic places, but never that adventure again.

I’m not that girl any more — not physically, obviously, but in more profound ways. I understand where she wanted to go back in 1979/1980 and I’ve been there. That’s enormous. When I think of how long it has taken me to learn what anything actually IS I’m dumbfounded.

And maybe I still don’t know.

*There are at least three lakes named “Lost Lake” in Colorado which could explain how they got lost. This is the Lost Lake I’m referring to here. It was once fairly remote but a lot more people live in the towns around it now, so the trails are now sometimes closed due to over use.

Molly and I Go Skiing

This Wasn’t the day in the story below, but this is Molly and this is me, 1991 Laguna Mountains, San Diego County, CA
“The first fall of snow is not only an event, but it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment, then where is it to be found?” J.B. Priestley


Many of my dogs have been snow dogs — mostly Siberian Huskies, but Molly was an Australian Shepherd/Malamute mix. She was my first “snow dog,” and she was very special. I think many dog owners have experienced life with an extraordinary dog, and Molly was just such a one.

Around Valentine’s Day in 1989, I found her in a big cardboard box with her brothers and sisters at the El Cajon swap meet. Her mom was a Malamute. The people were very eager to get rid of the pups. It appeared that they’d hoped to breed Malamutes, but a licentious Aussie had gotten to her first. The pups were free, somewhere around 8 weeks old. 

It was, for me, love at first sight. Molly was patterned like a blue merle Aussie. Her eyes were brown and she had a little pink heart shape on her nose. She was born without a tail — just a little flap of fur where a tail would have been. I hadn’t thought of having two dogs, but Truffle had recently been spayed and maybe she would look at Molly as her own pup.

The very first day — that very afternoon — I took her to the Laguna Mountains with Truffle, hiking. She was far too small for that, but it gave me my first glimpse into her amazing mind. Tiny as she was, when she got hot and tired, she found a shady place and dug with her little feet until she found cool, damp earth and she laid down, flat on her belly, and looked up at me. 

I became very familiar with that look. It said, ”Surely you know better than this?” 

And she smiled.

I ended up carrying her out, realizing how dumb — and inadvertently cruel — I had been.

Her nickname became ”Smiler” for the way she had of curling back her lips when she was overjoyed happy to see the people she loved. With no tail to wag, she had to do something.

Molly didn’t bark; she “woo-woo”ed. She went to puppy school and dropped out. Once she felt she’d mastered a skill such as “sit” or “down” she just went to sleep. She did take the final exam and passed with flying colors. Throughout her life, she never walked well on a leash; neither of the breeds in her ancestry was exactly what you’d call ”submissive.” 

When tested with sheep, she showed no interest in herding, but she would keep my niece and her little friends in one corner of the backyard when she was tired of playing with them. Molly had intelligence and will, and, from her, I learned how a human and a dog can be partners, friends, equals. That particular balance became my goal in my relationship with all the dogs in my life. 

We lived together for nearly fifteen years. They were tumultuous years in my life, but Molly stayed the course with her particular fierce and light-hearted sense of how things should be. 

Most of all, we wanted to be together ALL THE TIME. We loved each other fiercely.


One March afternoon in 2000 I was at work and heard the news that more than 20 inches of snow had fallen in the Laguna Mountains and was expected to continue — at a slower rate — all night.

I wanted to ski, but I’d gotten rid of my skis in the GREAT PURGE when the Good X moved out. I found, to my great surprise, that there was a place in San Diego where I could rent X-country skis. I called and said, “I need skis, boots, and poles, whatever, for a woman 5’2” 160 pounds, 7.5 shoes. Can I come and get them this afternoon?”

“Yeah, sure. You know where we are?”

“Not really.” He gave me directions. I made my plans known to my bosses (who were also colleagues) that I would not be at school/work the next day, and that I would call in sick. I explained that I was going skiing with my dog. There in San Diego County I was going to have a “snow day.”

“Isn’t that dangerous? To ski alone like that in the back-country?”

A common question in my life. I knew people — friends — who did really dangerous things. I was just going to the nearby mountains to X-country ski with my best friend who happened to be a dog. In the Laguna Mountains, there was zero chance of an avalanche. There really was NOTHING dangerous about it unless I fell and broke something. I believed (on some level) that Molly was perfectly capable of rescuing me and driving home.

I walked in the shop and the guy behind the counter — the owner — looked up and said, “5’2” 160?” 


“Here you go. Try on the boots.”

The boots were fine.

I was on fire with excitement. I was rapturous. I had not X-country skied in YEARS, almost a DECADE. I couldn’t wait. I was going skiing. Snow!!!! The next morning Molly and I were on the road loud music blasting out of the CD player.

I planned to park at the Meadows Information Station on the Sunrise Highway. I hoped the road wasn’t closed. I didn’t have chains. I figured if the road were closed I’d park where I could and just ski up the road with my dog on a leash, but on that holy day, we got lucky. Waaa—HOOO!

I had no plan, no route. I was just going to ski. I knew the snow would be great. Some of the best X-country skiing in my life was in Southern California, dense snow, receptive to skis, easy to break trail, easy to turn, and fast on hills.

I buckled on Molly’s pack so she could carry our water and granola bars, and we were off across the meadow and then down, down to Laguna Pond. 

About 50 feet above Laguna Pond the season changed to spring. The warmer air, coming from the ocean, laden with water, was here soft mist bending to the cool surface of the pond on its way to higher, colder elevations where it would turn to snow. In those mountains, the Lagunas, the seasons are often inches from each other. I have stood on a trail on the northeast side of the Lagunas, over the desert, arms outstretched, one hand in a winter storm and the other in sunshine, the climate created by the rain shadow. 

I turned and we skied back up to winter then down again to spring, and up and then, having enjoyed the phenomenon enough, I returned to winter to stay. There we climbed hills and skied down, and the snow fell. On the top of one hill above the meadow, Molly jumped up and landed on her back. She rolled around, making angels in the deep snow. I stepped out of my skis and got down beside her to made an angel of my own. When I finished, I looked over at my blissful, wet, snowy dog and saw her…



This is a chapter from my book My Everest.

“Think about it, Martha.”

In spite of a mildly torqued knee. a pulled groin muscle, and a limp, I decided to take Bear out to the Refuge. I thought I’d use a cane for stability, but I’d forgotten that is Bear’s job. She’d kind of forgotten that, too, at the beginning of our walk, but she remembered before she did any damage.

The moment I arrived, I noticed the welcoming party.

Welcoming committee…

It was very deer of them to be there, waiting for me, and I was grateful. I took it as a benediction on what I feared was a bad idea, walking Bear when I am physically a little fragile. I sent them my thanks through ASL (which all muledeer understand perfectly) and my friend and I took off slowly, me limping, Bear wanting to smell everything. I didn’t blame her. Even I could see the stories left in the snow.

We went along. I had no idea how far I would go before I couldn’t go, but it turned out that I was able to go almost as far as usual. The only reason I didn’t go all the way is because my mom told me not to, I mean because I’m less stupid and stubborn than I was three days ago. Bear studied scents, rolled in the snow, dug down to where maybe some little creature had burrowed for warmth.

On the way I noticed a large bird in one of the cottonwood trees. Then it went “ooo-hooo” and I realized it was “my” great horned owl. Too far away for a good photo, but when has that deterred me?

I should really take a camera…

When Bear and I turned around, Bear did her lean thing which I interpret to mean, “Thank you Martha,” but it might mean, “Aren’t we going to hunt some more?” We walked along together, my hand on my dog’s back, and I thought, “Is this so bad, Martha? Really, what’s wrong with this? Your best friend is here. Your welcoming committee was waiting for you. The snow is one big mantle of diamonds and stories. And look at that! Look, right in front of you!!”

I did. I stood there and looked at the little grouping of mountains I’ve painted so many times that they’re almost a part of my hand, and I started to cry. “We are hardly a consolation prize,” murmured all the features of the landscape, “And we’re yours. You came here for this and we are here for you. Do you have to live according to some idea of yourself or can’t you just do what we do and BE?”

There were no human footprints anywhere. A couple signs of someone on X-country skis maybe three days ago, but otherwise? As it is most of the year, it was just us, Bear and me and sometimes Teddy, too. I like the cold, the wind, the changes, the tracks, the possibilities of seeing other animals besides me and my dogs. I like what I see going slowly.

So, I will be selling my skis.

Hey Teach!

I’m finding that it’s going to take getting used to having a president again. OK, it’s only been a little over one day. So far Biden has done many of the things I wanted him to do. We’re back in the Paris Accord. We’re back in WHO. Dr. Fauci gave a press briefing. There’s clearer direction on dealing with the virus. All this is wonderful but what I like most is Dr. Biden. I like her a LOT.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not one of those people who objected to Melamine’s nude modeling or anything else she did. None of that bothered me at all.

Education in our country has suffered for decades and I believe a dedicated teacher who is actually TEACHING — COLLEGE ENGLISH teacher no less ❤ — might be able to turn this around.

One of the most troubling things in the Education system in the US is its focus on testing vs. actual learning. Maybe she will see what I have seen and others have seen. Then, another troubling thing is the attitude toward education in many rural areas, that it’s something they don’t need. Maybe that can change, too.

Ignorance has had too high a place in this culture from the beginning. I can understand it in early days when the idea of a democratic system vs. monarchy was first floated then put into effect. The lucky people who had money and education had to persuade those who didn’t have those things that their vote was every bit as good as the vote of a ore privileged person. Except for excluding women and blacks, this country didn’t set itself up to be an elitist republic like Rome or Greece. It had a different idea.

But after having had my nose in American literature of the 19th century for years, I also know that the other part of the idea was to educate the electorate. I read so many essays and articles and short stories where that was the underlying (and sometimes not underlying) message.

The movement for mandatory public school had some ugly origins (populism and racism) but it also set the stage for more kids going to school. It didn’t become a law until fairly recently, and, as we all know, it’s still debated and the last secretary of education was pushing the idea that public education wasn’t such a great idea and that charter schools, church schools and home schools were better.

I don’t really care WHERE kids go to school, I just care that they do. And, when they are there, I want them to be excited to learn new things. I want their curiosity to be encouraged and the development of skills to be regarded as a great and wonderful thing (by the kids). My little foray into teaching children this past fall wasn’t, by my terms, a success at all, but the kids thought it was. I think it takes particular gifts to teach children, different gifts to teach young adults and, most wonderful of all, special gifts to teach adults.

Teaching is a wonderful, rewarding, and stimulating profession that — at the college and university level, anyway — offers little job security and a lousy wage. As a person more interested in intrinsic rewards than in money (silly me) that was all fine, but it really isn’t fine. Dr. Biden seems to understand this and it is one of the goals toward which she has promised to work. We’ll see how all this pans out in time, but I’m happy she’s there.